Is t.A.T.u. coming back??

Some rumors have surfaced online about t.A.T.u. coming back. Here's what's going on: an "official t.A.T.u. tribute" will tentatively take place in the Spring of 2022.

Both Lena and Yulia have spoken on it. A popular streaming site is preparing to film a biographical series about the group t.A.T.u. with the participation of Lena and Julia.

Welcome to my t.A.T.u. shrine!

t.A.T.u. is a Russian pop group that gained international popularity in the early 00s. They are the most successful and well-known Russian pop group to date.

Lots of controversy surrounds t.A.T.u. due to their 'lesbian' image.

The group was made up of Lena Katina (the redhead) and Yulia Volkova. Currently, t.A.T.u. is disbanded.

About t.A.T.u.

t.A.T.u. was formed in 1999 by Ivan Shapovalov, who went on to be the manager and producer of the group. At the group’s conception, Lena was 15 and Yulia, 14.

The group was the creative project of Ivan Shapovalov, who was producing and directing a children's chorus named Neposedy. Yulia and Lena were members of Neposedy (some rumors say the girls were kicked out for bad behavior).

Before t.A.T.u., Lena was recruited by Ivan to sing the song Yugoslavia, an anti-war ballad.

It seems like the girls were never fully informed about everything they were signing up for, though.

In a 2021 interview, Lena says "[Our producer Ivan Shapolavov] never said that we would be lesbians. Such conversations, I don’t remember." “Before [filming All the Things She Said], Ivan said that we had to kiss. With laughter. We also laughed. Yulia and I thought that he was just joking."

Once they debuted their first record, 200 Po Vstrechnoy in 2001 (and subsequently its English counterpart 200 km/h in the Wrong Lane in 2002), they became a controversial favorite and rose to stardom in several countries - and, to a lesser extent, in the US.

t.A.T.u. had a huge impact on the LGBTQ+ community because of how unapologetic they were about their love for each other, despite the social implications (the early 00s were vastly more homophobic than today). The thing is, most of their fans were under the impression that the two girls were really in love with each other, and were brave enough to ‘come out’ to everyone by… rising to stardom I guess and becoming pop stars? It seemed like an inspiring and beautiful story if true, so I guess it makes sense that people wanted to believe…

In the beginning, both girls claimed their love for one another was genuine. In a 2003 interview, Yulia says "Yes, we are girlfriends with each other." Lena adds, "We don't have to convince anyone."

Later that year, a Russian documentary came out called The Anatomy of t.A.T.u. The documentary revealed that the girls were not really lesbians.

The next year (2004), it was announced that Yulia was pregnant (by an older man with a wife and daughter). This pretty quickly shattered the illusion for most people, especially once it became clear that the baby daddy was actually her boyfriend.

Later that year, Lena remarked in an interview "Our first video was about love between two girls. We do not pretend to be lesbians — we’ve never said we were."

I remember distinctly that it shattered the illusion with me. I remember a pre-reveal and post-reveal period of my life, the “reveal” being their not-gayness.

The group received a lot of emotional fanmail when people learned they weren't 'real' lesbians.

As someone who was briefly a part of t.A.T.u. 'fanspaces', I can't emphasize how much every single person in that community desperately wanted t.A.T.u. to be real. You could see it in their writing. Now, years later, I watch one of their longest recorded interviews and their personalities somehow align with all of the characterizations I read in the fanfic? It's wild!

But, as it turned out, t.A.T.u. wasn't just any act, one that was carefully crafted by their manager, Ivan.

In the formerly mentioned interview, Lena talks about the ways that Ivan would ‘direct’ them. He would passionately and emotionally get them to be inside of that role, because acting wasn’t enough.

This trait of his (and perhaps more) is corroborated by Yulia's half when she reveals that Ivan instructed her to masturbate on camera until she came. (She was 17, btw). When she tried to fake it, he demanded that she do it again, but for real. He would be satisfied with nothing less. (Did I mention this dude is a former (?) child psychologist?)

It should be noted that both Lena and Yulia speak very highly of Ivan. They don’t currently consider anything he did to them manipulative or abusive at all and they seem to revere him like a great teacher.

At the height of everything, Ivan developed a drug problem. They don’t name any specific drugs in the interview, but needles are mentioned.

It got so bad at one point that the girls recount Ivan telling them to go to a studio and they found there thirty strangers with backpacks, passed out or sleeping on the ground.

I remember, back then, hearing on a forum some rumors about Ivan being a ‘megalomaniac’ but I didn’t really understand the term. After watching the latest interview, it definitely makes sense now. It wasn’t a rumor.

In 2004, as a result of increasing unreliability and drug dependence, the girls split from Ivan. They signed on with his old partner and went their separate ways. No formal 'goodbye' or anything.

Their next albums Lyudi Invalidy (and English counterpart Dangerous and Moving) were great, but noticeably different. Album sales were nowhere near their previous ones, so it seemed that the public interest in t.A.T.u. seemed to fade.

Their final album Vesyolye Ulybki (and its English counterpart, Waste Management) came out in 2009. This album also did not perform very well, and shortly after, t.A.T.u. broke up.

Despite the split, there have been a few events during which the girls came together to perform as t.A.T.u. again, such as the 2014 Winter Olympics. Unfortunately, they had a falling out shortly after when Yulia allegedly threatened to use her power and influence to shut down Lena's solo project.

A little later in 2014, Yulia made headlines when she was asked if she would condemn her son for being gay. She responded, "Yes, I would condemn him. I believe that a real man must be a real man, a man has no right to be a fag." which directly conflicts with all of the 'love who you want' vibe of the duo. She has followed up saying "Two girls together—not the same thing as two men together. It seems to me that lesbians look aesthetically much nicer..." (not much better) and that she is not "against" gays and they are "better than murderers, thieves, or drug addicts".

Oof... as a former (?) t.A.T.u. fangirl, that coming from Yulia of all people... hurts.

t.A.T.u.'s last performance was in 2019 to mark the 25th anniversary of their original children's group Neposedy. They have not performed together since.

weird t.A.T.u.

t.A.T.u. cameoed in a 2008 (US) movie titled You and I, based on a Russian novel called "t.A.T.u. Come Back".

The novel is a collection of text messages detailing a love story between two young women who meet on a t.A.T.u. fansite and fall for each other.

I've read a translation of the original book and I watched the movie, they're pretty alright. Here's where it gets weird:

The novel was written by some right-wing Russian politician who probably has no business writing borderline erotica about teenage lesbians. I mean, check out the cover.

Lena and Yulia's Relationship

I will forever be entranced by trying to figure out the dynamics between Lena and Yulia. I closely followed their interviews and news before the big ‘reveal’. They just always seemed so happy together, always touching each other, all of the signs were there. But it was an act! Why couldn’t we see it!?

And then, on top of that, the two had a falling out that was so explosive that they still haven’t spoken to each other?

When the girls appeared in an episode of The Voice, their performance seemed stiff and awkward, like they were ignoring each other - it wasn’t difficult to see.

There hasn’t been much said about exactly what happened, so it remained a mystery.

There was some drama after their Olympics performance in 2019 when Lena posted a video on YouTube, saying that Yulia was preventing them from working together, and making their ‘future collaboration nearly impossible’. It was never really clear what was going on, though.

In a recent interview, both girls talked a little about their relationship, and these are the highlights that stood out most to me:

Yulia seemed to express that she was always open to working with Lena (unclear but I’m guessing this was pre-fallout) but Lena would make things difficult. She alluded to a few different times but one that stood out to me was when Lena’s grandmother was sick. She said something to the effect of, “I should be with my grandmother right now, but instead I’m here with you.”

It was mentioned in the interview that Lena was seeing a counselor for some time after her and Yulia’s relationship was disintegrating. I’m phrasing this weird because Lena didn’t say so herself, I believe the interviewer mentioned it. Lena’s mom says that her and Yulia were like ‘a married couple’. Yulia says that Lena told her she was scared because she was relying too much on Yulia, and didn’t know how to function without her.

From this information, it sounds like they might have had a codependent relationship (I had a friendship kind of like this when I was younger). Especially as teen pop stars, spending all of their time together on tour, needing to ‘meet the requirements’ of putting on the ‘girlfriend’ act, all of that mixed with the societal pressures of being a teenager, having to figure out your identity, it’s not really a surprise in retrospect that it ended so explosively.

Yulia's Voice

On the forums in 03-04, I remember hearing a lot of worry about Yulia’s voice. A lot of fans expressed worry for her, because she had a very distinct way of singing that was more like shouting. Some of the ‘regulars’ on there mentioned that their manager was pushing Yulia to strain her voice like this.

During the recording of their second album, her voice began to deteriorate after developing a vocal fold cyst. She underwent surgery to remove the cyst in 2004.

I recently watched an old clip where Yulia is frustrated and talking to Ivan, telling him that she refuses to scream anymore in her songs. She says, “I shouted enough to develop nodes and incomplete closure of the vocal chords.” Ivan is persistent, though. He says, “You won’t sing anything if you won’t do it.”

In 2012, Yulia was diagnosed with thyroid cancer in 2012. It wasn't publicly revealed until 2016. She had to undergo a complex surgery which severed her laryngeal nerve, causing her to lose her voice.

In an interview, Yulia says “When it was all over, when [my friends] heard my voice after surgery, they realized they did not need me anymore.” and “Nobody called, even Lena.”

In a more recent interview, the interviewer confronts Ivan and asks him if he feels guilty for contributing to the loss of Yulia’s voice, by refusing to allow her to sing differently on the albums.

His response is (paraphrased) “Yulia had no choice. She devotes herself to things fully, that’s just how she is. It doesn’t matter if I forced her or not.”

When pressed further, he says, “It was her choice.” When asked about it directly, Yulia doesn’t consider Ivan at fault.

My Connection to t.A.T.u.

The first time I discovered t.A.T.u., I was 10 years old and watching MTV. Their music video for “All The Things She Said” came on and I was obsessed. The next time it came on the radio, I recorded it onto a cassette tape so I could listen to it all of the time.

I absolutely loved their image and concept. As an 11-year-old (especially one with a homophobic dad), the concept of lesbianism always intrigued me (took me a while longer to catch on though, lmfao!). I remember making Barbie lesbians as an even smaller lesbian. t.A.T.u. seemed to be marketed to me specifically. 100% aesthetic.

When I was 11, I joined my first web forum, tatu.us. This forum is no longer up as of December 2021, but was up until at least May of 2021!

This was the first time I had the opportunity to freely and openly socialize with strangers (outside of chat rooms). My first account got banned for spam because I was a little kid who had no idea how to socialize.

Each time I got banned, I made a new account. Each time I would learn a little bit more about online etiquette.

I met a lot of interesting people on that forum from all over the world. t.A.T.u. saw greater fame in Europe than in the U.S., so it was overwhelmingly Europeans. There were also lot of older men on this forum. They mostly stuck around to write fanfiction - thinly-veiled erotica (about teenage pop stars).

What really drew me in was the concept of t.A.T.u. fanfiction. I had been technically writing fanfic since I was 7 or 8, but I didn't know it had a name and was a thing that people actually do.

Although I do strongly feel that band!fic is ethically questionable, writing about t.A.T.u. was one of my first forays into writing fanfiction. The forum’s most active board by far was the ‘Tatu Writing’ board, filled to the brim with long fanfictions spanning sometimes hundreds of pages.

I dreamed of putting together intricate stories that held chapters and chapters of stories about forbidden angsty love. I’ve always been drawn to writing, but writing about lesbian romance? The idea hadn’t even occurred to me! Complete with an 11-year-old’s understanding of grammar, I typed away at my first t.A.T.u. fanfiction (and didn’t use paragraph breaks hahahah).

Despite my honestly horrid writing, I got some ‘reviews’ where people typically comment on your fanfiction and say, ‘great job, keep up the good work!’ and it fueled me.

At the time, there was a very famous long and well-written t.A.T.u. fanfiction called "Going Mad". It had its own website and everything. It was based on the music video for "All The Things She Said" (each chapter was a song title and based on the song - it was incredible). The story detailed a forlorn love story between two girls from homophobic families. The girls run away from home to be together. I laughed. I cried. I loved it.

When I discovered this, I copied the entire thing into a Word document so I could read it offline, since I didn’t have internet at home. I still have the Word document saved!

I was so inspired that I copied that person’s idea and created a cringy website to showcase one of my first t.A.T.u. fanfictions. “You know what would be cool?” thought 11-year-old me. “If I wrote my fanfiction on top of a t.A.T.u. image in Photoshop and used Comic Sans MS! Yeah!” Oof…

I was so intrigued by t.A.T.u. and their music that I determined (but ultimately failed) to learn Russian, so I could understand their interviews and lyrics. I had been memorizing the cyrillic alphabet (a fine place to start, I thought) when my dad bought me Learn Russian - The Fast and Easy Way from Barnes and Noble for my birthday.

I was doing all of the basics, before I realized “wait… where’s the cyrillic?”

I thought you just needed to map each cyrillic letter to a letter of our alphabet and decode the language like a key. I WAS ONLY ELEVEN. ;-;

A lot of t.A.T.u.'s music was largely unavailable to me due to it being released in Russia. I hadn't yet learned how to pirate music. On a trip to a farm with a family friend, we spoke with someone who lived there who kindly downloaded their entire russian discography from Limewire and burnt it to a CD for me. I was ecstatic, although I'll never forget the weird and disgusted looks on the faces of my classmates as I proudly showed them my Russian pop techno.

As mentioned earlier, it really broke my heart when I learned t.A.T.u. was an ‘act’ instead of a passionate public affair. This was a band that made me feel validated to be who I was, because they were so unapologetically who they are - until I learned they weren’t.

I stopped participating in the forum, and I stopped writing fanfiction. But I never stopped listening to their music.

Here are some of the original ‘forum siggies’ from my preteen years:

where are they now?

Lena has a solo career and is on most streaming services. Follow her Instagram!

I like her songs, but I feel like the mixing is lacking. Instead of showcasing her gorgeous voice, the instrumental sounds almost too loud?

Yulia recently ran for parliament for Putin's United Russia party but she lost. You can watch her campaign video here.

Yulia also launched her own shoe business, and does business in real estate (blech). She still occasionally performs live.

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